There are two species of quail that are commonly kept in the U.K. The Chinese Painted Quail is popular in aviaries and is the smaller of the two, but the Coturnix or Japanese Quail is more popular for producing eggs with smallholders and back garden poultry keepers.
Quail can be very productive laying around 230 eggs per year so are an ideal solution for people with small back gardens that are unsuitable for chickens. They are however more nervous than other poultry and do not like being handled so care must be taken when catching them because they are able to fly vertically upwards to escape capture. Quail will get used to you though and mine will call between themselves when approached, looking to see if I am bringing them something tasty to eat!
Housing and runs
Rats are a real problem to quail and one of the first things you should consider when thinking about keeping quail as pets is their security in runs and housing. Ventilation in housing is also important since quail droppings produce far more ammonia than other poultry.
Quail can be kept with or without a run as long as they are provided with a little grass or other greens in their diet. It’s probably best to start by converting housing you already have, ensuring it has adequate ventilation, or to buy a rabbit hutch. A Great & Small XL Guinea Pig & Rabbit Hutch with a Great & Small XL Fun Run attached would be big enough for half a dozen quail and provide adequate ventilation and a place for them to hide to lay eggs.
Chicken’s housing is wasted on quail. They don’t need such elaborate nest boxes although they will appreciate somewhere dark to lay. Quail don’t always make nests; they will usually lay their eggs in discreet places in their bedding. Perches are also wasted on quail and most coops are raised off the ground, which is also a problem.
In their run, quail prefer a habitat much closer to that of a pheasant than a chicken. Their natural habitat provides them with places to nest and hide and it helps if you can replicate this with cut conifer branches or similar for cover and a few small logs raised off the ground by a couple of bricks for them to hide under or behind.
Quail need more protection during the colder winter months (when the temperature is approaching freezing or below). Some people will move their accommodation into a garden shed or garage but keeping them outside in a sheltered position, using an extra few inches of bedding material to keep them well insulated from the floor and shut in their house on cold or wet days is usually fine. As with any animals, wet and draughts will cause problems so although they require good ventilation, it may be necessary to cover these if there are strong winds. I have done this using an old sack in the past so it need not be elaborate.
Quail like to spend their time on the ground and are not keen on climbing so will not use a steep ramp to get into their house. Housing must be close to the ground. If their house is too close to the ground, rats can burrow underneath so a compromise must be reached, or a concrete floor used under the house. Again the Great & Small XL Guinea Pig & Rabbit Hutch, which is raised around 4 inches off the ground and has a shallow, wide ramp would be perfect for them.
When startled, quail are capable of flying vertically. For this reason, runs must be covered to contain them. When getting close to quail for cleaning or other chores, it helps to move slowly, allowing them to scurry off elsewhere. If startled, there is a risk of them damaging their heads on the roof of their house or worse still, on the unforgiving wire of a run. A fruit net or other soft material can be stretched across the run, just below the roof to soften the blow for their Harrier Jump Jet impressions.
Quail do not over-eat so can be fed ad-lib as with other poultry however if you feed them with a quail seed / pellet mix, make sure you use a hopper with ‘anti-spill fingers’ because they can waste a lot of it by flicking it out onto the floor as they search for their favourite seeds in the mix. It goes without saying that quail should have access to clean fresh water at all times. Great care needs to be taken with the chicks to ensure that they cannot fall into the water and many quail keepers recommend placing small pebbles or marbles in a shallow water container not only to attract them to the water source but to enable them to get out again should they fall in.
Quail should be started on a crumb. A non-medicated turkey starter crumb is ideal since it is higher in protein than chick crumb. At about 5-6 weeks of age the quail can be gradually changed onto a grower/finisher ration, again a turkey feed should provide the correct protein levels. By 10 weeks of age, quail that are being kept for their eggs or breeding require a breeders feed which contains 18-20% protein.
As a guide adult quail will require approximately 15g of food per day and it is recommended that quail of all ages should have access to ad lib food. As with other poultry, greens are very important in the diet of a quail. This can be as simple as some fresh grass, although they will appreciate a wide variety of leafy green vegetables from the garden, supermarket or allotment.